Sometimes CD reviews are ground out like hamburger on an assembly line, practically pre-packaged and chock full of quippy little quotes to make reviewers feel pithy while marketers get copy. Others find themselves clocking in way the hell late, long after the initial buzz of press releases and CD release parties has dissipated. Why’s that? Well, because sometimes a record comes out that somebody’s got to stop and listen to for a damned long time before anything resembling a sense of its essence can be written about. In a shock to exactly nobody familiar with his work, Kevin Higgins has released one of those records. It’s called Find Your Shine. It’s as far away from the aural veins Higgins mines with his normal band, The Dust Devils, as, say, Poughkeepsie is from Gunbarrel City. And at first, that might throw some long-time listeners for a loop. Or not. But it’s safe to say that anyone who’s thought up to now that Kevin Higgins is just another Southern rocker in a straw cowboy hat has another think or two coming.
There were always two or three songs on any given Dust Devils record where the winds stopped swirling long enough to showcase a Texas songwriter with a whiskeyed gravel voice who could handle anything Townes or Jerry Jeff ever did. But with this record, top to bottom, revelations about Higgins abound. Rocker? Not here. This is singer-songwriter stuff at a level that changes the whole damn playing field. All those West Texas vistas you thought you knew because you listened to Joe Ely or Tom Russell paint them for you? They’re clearer here, but sometimes mistier, too. The kids you ran with back before middle school started stealing your innocence? They’re here. So’s that girl you loved, really loved, back when you didn’t know yet what love really was. Memories of everything you’ve lived and the people you lived it with, or memories of the life you wish you’d had – all of that is here.
The more I think about it
The less I understand
You grab ahold of something good
And it’ll slip right through your hands
Will you catch me if I fall?
Will you sit and watch me crawl
Through fire and the burning sand
All the way to Monahans?
In the most secluded and safest places in our hearts and minds, there are fleeting traces of what we used to call home. Some among us have built it anew and improved upon it, while others have spent their precious time wishing they could simply return and avoid this modern world. For both audiences, Higgins offers a soothing balm that implies it will all be okay in the end. Even the heartbreaking tracks (“Curtains” comes to mind) offer a singular sense of indomitable hope.
The instrumentation here is somehow both lush and spare, hitting every note it should while leaving just enough empty space to drive home each song’s message. That’s a consistent theme throughout Find Your Shine. Nothing here is out of place; it’s as well-crafted a record as you will ever loose upon your battered ears. Every note, every pause, every inflection, every lyric is perfectly placed, and each works in its way to create a whole far greater than the sum of the parts. Even the title track, which could have found itself easily wallowing in a passel of maudlin cheesiness, works in the purest of heartwarming ways:
There comes a time we learn to cut our losses
He always said to measure twice and just cut once
Nothing ever lasts forever
So for the everlasting life
Go to Paradise, Kansas
To change your state of mind
Thankful, North Carolina
Or Little Heaven, Delaware
We’ll leave this all behind
And find your shine
Takes an exceptional writer to pull that off, and only a singer with no choice but to give voice to his soul could deliver those lines in a way that inspires hope rather than chuckles. Kevin Higgins is both. We always knew that, or at least anyone who’s followed the Dust Devils did – but none of us knew he had the depth and beauty and scope inside of him that this record unleashes. The game has changed, folks. Between this record and what Brian Burns just released with American Junkyard, the bar for anyone wanting to call themselves a serious songwriter in Texas is significantly higher. Newton once said that if he’d seen farther, it was due to the fact that he’d stood upon the shoulders of giants.
If the giants in the Lone Star state had names like Van Zandt and Stevenson and Nelson and Shaver and Clark, then the artists building on their legacies today can only be expected to shimmer and shine. That’s exactly what Kevin Higgins does here. His second solo record (Dark Side of the Barn was ten years ago, predated the Dust Devils, and is out of print) is a coming out party the likes of which Texas hasn’t seen in years. Its sweeping aural vistas bring home the best of the Llano Estacado’s spiritual mysticism, but its refined complexities also whisper at the heart of everything Americana. This is as shimmeringly beautiful a record as you’ll hear this year, and its message and delivery will haunt you and heal you all at once.
Find Your Shine is a stunning accomplishment, top to bottom. You can get a copy at www.thedustdevils.org. Do it soon, so your road trips and the deepest parts of your evenings can revel in a beauty and a sense of home you’ve been missing much more than you’d realized.
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Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas.
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